A hallmark of the primary season on the Democratic side was Senate candidate Michelle Nunn's studied determination not to define herself. As of today, that's no longer possible for her -- and it's her own campaign's fault.
A series of internal campaign memos, totaling 144 pages and covering everything from fund-raising goals and targets to staffing needs, was leaked to National Review, which published it today. The campaign itself reportedly uploaded the plan to the Internet back in December, before quickly taking it back down. But someone found it during that brief period and -- this is the impressive part -- had the patience to sit on it until after the GOP run-off was over.
While much of the plan details the mundane minutia of planning a year-long, statewide campaign, other parts of it are damaging to the Nunn campaign. National Review's Eliana Johnson, who wrote the publication's story about the memo, puts some of those problems right at the top:
"Michelle Nunn can come across as a 'lightweight,' 'too liberal,' not a 'real Georgian.' While she served as CEO for the Points of Light Foundation, the organization gave grants to 'inmates' and 'terrorists.' And her Senate campaign must feature images of her and her family 'in rural settings with rural-oriented imagery' because the Atlanta-based candidate will struggle to connect with rural voters.
"These may sound like attacks from the Senate candidate's Republican rival, but in fact, those are a few of the concerns expressed in her own campaign plan, which sources say was posted online briefly in December and appears to have been drafted earlier that month. Drawing on the insights of Democratic pollsters, strategists, fundraisers, and consultants, the document contains a series of memos addressed to Nunn and her senior advisers."
The news here isn't so much that Nunn is vulnerable on these points, but that the campaign is all too aware of them. You can expect Republican efforts to brand Nunn in the coming months to echo those descriptions.
Much worse is the way the document refers to problems stemming from Nunn's time as CEO of the Points of Light Foundation -- and not the one, already verified by PolitiFact Georgia, that she took a hefty raise and promotion at a time when the organization was shedding employees. Rather, as Johnson writes:
"Though the campaign plan recommends emphasizing Nunn's accomplishments at the Points of Light Foundation, which she has done on the campaign trail, her strategists express enormous concern about attacks that might arise from her work there. She has served as CEO of Points of Light since 2007 and, according to the document, it has made grants to 'terrorists' and 'inmates' during her tenure. The document also makes reference to a 2010 audit that concluded Points of Light's accounting system was 'not adequate to account for federal funds.' " (links original)
Those words "terrorists" and "inmates" come from the document itself. The former apparently refers to links between Points of Light and Islamic Relief USA, whose parent organization, Islamic Relief Worldwide, was banned from Israel last month because of its reported ties to Hamas. The Nunn campaign says Points of Light simply "validated" Islamic Relief USA as a charity for others to give to, resulting in $33,000 in donations. (Note: The original text of this paragraph has been updated with comment from the Nunn campaign.)
This may be of interest to the Jewish campaign donors the memo recommended Nunn court, with a message that as of its writing in December was described as to be determined. "Michelle's position on Israel will largely determine the level of support here," the plan stated. "There is tremendous financial opportunity, but the level of support will be contingent on her position. This applies not only to PACs, but individual donors as well." The Jewish community was one of two targeted for fund raising that didn't have a message already set by the campaign at that time, the other being trial lawyers and law firms. Other targeted groups were women, Georgia CEOs and business leaders, a national finance committee, young professionals, LGBT, and the tech community.
The list of vulnerabilities from Nunn's past and tenure at Points of Light, as outlined in the plan, includes: "grants to problematic entities, layoffs, liens (POL), POL audit/IG report, travel packages investigation, service awards to inmates (and) terrorists, Nunn's salary," as well as a list of potential attacks (named but not endorsed by the campaign) that "Nunn is too liberal, Nunn is a rubber stamp for Democrats, Nunn is Obama's/Harry Reid/Nancy Pelosi best friend, Nunn is not a 'real' Georgian, Nunn is a lightweight" and, somewhat out of place for that latter list, "conservation easements." Some of those issues and attacks were already known or obvious; others, such as the liens, IG report, travel packages investigation, service awards and conservation easements, are things that I, at least, hadn't heard about before. But we can expect to hear more about them in the months to come.
The memo also included a predictable list of national and international issues sure to come up during the campaign, from Obamacare to gun control.
To the degree voters think about the internal workings of a political campaign, they probably assume some version of this exists for every candidate. And they're probably right. But there's a difference between assuming campaign operatives think and talk this way, and seeing it all laid out in black and white. There's also the problem for the campaign of laying out a table of contents of issues for the GOP to research and use against Nunn, whereas they may have known about only certain of these things beforehand.
All in all, today was a very bad day for Michelle Nunn's candidacy and campaign.